First and foremost when you are struck by negativity online:
The worst thing you can do right now is overreact and say something you may regret. Count to ten, shut down your computer, and make a strategy. You’ll want to have a plan before you do anything publicly.
First, how bad was it? Is it something that you can just let pass you by without comment at all? Will it blow over in a day? Would a quick apology mitigate any outrage?
Especially when the problem is a bad review (say, on Yelp), a brief but heartfelt apology to the writer can help to quell the disappointment of your customer, as well as the concern of onlookers who are trying to decide whether to give you their business or not.
Any apology or address of a grievance should be without fuss or qualification. If you supplement your apology with excuses and shirk blame, it will undo any good will you may have garnered. If you can’t make a straightforward apology, don’t do it at all.
Answer the most common questions. A crisis, especially one on the Internet, will come with a slew of misinformation. Find a place to provide answers to your audience’s questions so they are getting the actual facts right from the source – you. Be honest in your answers. If you can’t answer every question right away, acknowledge that your company is working on a solution.
Continue to be responsive on social media throughout the crisis. Consider this: if people are going to vent, wouldn’t it be better if it’s on your Facebook wall where you can respond and monitor the outrage? Your inclination might be to recede and stay away from public outlets, but giving the public a place to complain on your turf will ensure you retain a degree of control.
Make sure your employees are filled in on the plan. Hopefully your employees have the best interests of your company at heart, but they can’t act accordingly unless you let them know what you expect of them. When a social media crisis hits, you want to deliver a consistent message, so make sure everyone knows what’s up.
Avoid one-on-one arguments. Is one guy on Facebook giving you a lot of trouble? Respond to any one person a maximum of twice. Three times makes it an argument, and you’ve probably got other customers to focus on anyway. You can’t convince everyone, so don’t bring your situation down further by hashing it out with one headstrong guy.
Last and most importantly:
Remain calm, collected, and polite. You’re on damage control and the point is to redeem your business’s reputation, not ridicule or fight your customers. If they are angry, the best thing you can do is respond graciously. You’ll show them that your business’s character is strong, steady, and respectful.